Ernst Niebur, Ph.D., M.Sc.

Headshot of Ernst Niebur
  • Professor of Neuroscience

Research Interests

Neuronal function at the system level; Selective attention more


Dr. Ernst Niebur is a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a professor of pscychological and brain sciences at the Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. His research examines neuronal function at the system level focusing particularly on a function known as selective attention, which is the capability of humans and higher animals to scan sensory input for the most important information and to discard other non-essential information.

He received his B.Sc. and M.Sc.from the University of Dortmund in West Germany. He was awarded his Ph.D. at Universite de Lausanne in Switzerland. He also received a certificate in Artificial Intelligence from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL).

Dr. Niebur has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and his work has been cited more than 10,000 times. more


  • Professor of Neuroscience

Departments / Divisions

Centers & Institutes



  • Ph.D.; Universite De Lausanne Faculte de Medecine (Switzerland) (1988)
  • B.Sc.; University of Dortmund (Germany) (1978)
  • M.Sc.; University of Dortmund (Germany) (1982)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

The Niebur lab constructs quantitative models of biological nervous systems that are firmly based on their neurophysiology, neuroanatomy and behavior. The lab’s main interest is neuronal function at the system level, reflecting the interaction of subsystems to generate useful behavior. Modeling is particularly important for understanding this and other systems-level functions, since it requires the interaction of several pathways and neural functions.

One of the functions studied is selective attention, which is the capability of higher animals to scan sensory input for the most important information and to discard all other. The lab constructs models of the neuronal basis of visual selective attention by simulating them on digital computers and comparing the results with data obtained from the visual and somatosensory systems of primates. Particular attention is paid to the mechanisms involving the implementation of neural mechanisms that make use of the temporal structure of neuronal firing, rather than just the average firing rate.

Selected Publications

Dong Y, Mihalas S, Kim SS, Yoshioka T, Bensmaia S, Niebur E. “A simple model of mechanotransduction in primate glabrous skin.” Journal of Neurophysiology 2013 Mar; 109(5):1350-1359.

Dong Y, Mihalas S, Russell A, Etienne-Cummings R, Niebur E. “Estimating parameters of generalized integrate-and-fire neurons from the maximum likelihood of spike trains.” Neural Computation 2011 Nov; 23(11):2833-67. Epub 2011 Aug 18.

Mihalas S, Dong Y, von der Heydt R, Niebur E. “Mechanisms of perceptual organization provide auto-zoom and auto-localization for attention to objects.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2011 May 3; 108 (18), 7583

Dong Y, Mihalas S, Niebur E. “Improved integral equation solution for the first passage time of leaky integrate-and-fire neurons.” Neural Computation, 2011 Feb; 23 (2), 421–34.

Millman D, Mihalas S, Kirkwood A, Niebur E. “Self-organized criticality occurs in non-conservative neuronal networks during Up states.” Nature Physics, 2010 Oct; 6 (10), 801–805.

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Neuroengineering Training Initiative

Neuroscience Graduate Program

Psychological and Brain Sciences

Visual Neuroscience Training Program

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